Mar 252009
Authors: Erin Smith

Due to low fall and winter precipitation, CSU climatologists say more precipitation is vital for Northern Colorado’s natural areas and agriculture going into the summer months.

The U.S. Drought Monitor listed the Front Range, a region that roughly stretches from Fort Collins to Pueblo, as one of the most drought affected areas in the state. The southeastern corner is also currently experiencing moderate drought conditions.

Nolan Doesken, a CSU Climatologist and contributor to the National Drought Monitor, said the Front Range needs five to seven inches of moisture by mid-June in order to avoid severe drought and said that natural areas such as grasslands, foothills forests, grazing land on ranches and agricultural areas all face troubling consequences if more precipitation is not seen in the area.

“Grasslands really like and need spring precipitation, so there won’t be much growth if spring storms don’t eventually arrive,” Doesken said in an e-mail, adding that fire danger is a growing concern for grasslands and the foothills forests.

So far, the Front Range has seen just fewer than two inches of moisture since the beginning of the rain year on Oct. 1. Wendy Ryan, a research assistant at CSU’s Climate Center, said that amount is only 58 percent of the region average.

Ryan said mountain snows like those seen over the weekend will eventually benefit the Front Range as they melt in late spring and summer, but will not impact the region’s immediate drought level.

“In our areas, spring precipitation is usually enough to germinate seeds and get crops started before irrigation water is needed, but unless things change, the soil is too dry to germinate seeds, so irrigation water would be needed earlier than usual which can put a strain on water supplies later on in the season,” Doesken said.

“It’s always a little different for agriculture, they need a certain level of rain to get things going and growing,” agreed Dennis Bode, resource manager at Fort Collins Utilities. “If it’s really dry we may make water less available to them.”

Such restrictive measures, however, are taken only if a need is identified and if those measures will not detrimentally effect the economic survival of a farm, according to the Fort Collins Water Supply and Demand Policy, which outlines city response in different levels of drought.

In a drought situation, Bode said, the city manager confirms a water shortage level and then implements the appropriate responses, such as restricting times or days customers may water their lawns.

“We’ll continue to monitor our supply as we go into summer,” Bode said, “Everyone wants a little more water going into the season.

He added that Fort Collins Utilities has no reason to believe they will need to implement any of these restrictions this year.

In spite of drought fears, Bode said the surface water supply in Fort Collins remains good, due to what Doesken said is the origin of the city’s water supply: the mountain snow.

“We’re fortunate because there has been good snow pack in the high country … this year we’re in pretty good shape,” Bode said.

Staff reporter Erin Smith can be reached at

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